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Forecasting flames: SAWS slams Zille, talks rainfall probability in Cape Town

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has just issued one of the most entertaining and fact-heavy press releases you’ll likely read this year.

Issued on Friday, it’s loaded with statistics regarding Cape Town’s rainfall probability beyond April, and flames for the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.

This is seemingly a response by SAWS, after Zille appeared on BBC Newsnight Thursday evening noting that “the experts can’t predict anything anymore”.

SAWS slams Helen Zille

In the statement, SAWS called out Zille’s “disingenuous and extremely opportunistic” accusations regarding the service’s alleged incorrect weather predictions and inadequate climate “models… in an era of climate change”.

“SAWS has had discussions with the Premier and respectfully requested her to refrain from casting aspersions on the work of the Service,” explained SAWS.

“The Weather Service has furthermore offered the Premier access to all weather information and resources to enable her to speak from a position of knowledge rather than speculation.

“Now it seems this offer was not taken up.”

SAWS then dips into the likelihood of rainfall in Cape Town this year.

It’ll be another dry autumn for Cape Town

Noting that cold fronts between April and September provide the city with some 77% of its annual average 820mm rainfall, Cape Town’s drought has been exacerbated by two remarkably dry years in a row.

2017 was the driest year since 1921, with SAWS recording just 499mm of rainfall. 2015 was the second-driest, with totals barely topping 550mm.

SAWS however rubbished the notion that these low figures are indicative of a “drying trend”, citing 2013 and 2014’s rainfall figures of 1112mm and 853mm respectively.

But that’s where the good news stops and the mathematics begins.

“[I]t is extremely unlikely that rainfall totals will exceed 150mm for the months of January, February and March 2018, since it never happened in history,” postulated SAWS.

“For April 2018, however, there is a 44% possibility for the monthly rainfall total to fall in the 51-100mm range, while there is a 58% possibility that rainfall totals for April 2018 will not be higher than 100mm.”

SAWS also claimed that Autumn will remain a mostly dry season for Cape Town, with no notable rainfall forecast for the next two weeks in the city.

It did not however speculate on the latter half of the year.

Finally, SAWS addressed Helen Zille once more:

Blaming the weather, or climate and the Weather Service is a cop-out for policy inaction and ineptitude in implementation of multidisciplinary research and reports that have long pointed to the water challenge in the country, the Western Cape and in Cape Town.

Zille responded to the SAWS’s press release on Twitter, attaching a picture of one of the Service’s forecast slides.

“This is 1 of the worrying slides the SA Weather Service showed us in an open and honest briefing about what rainfall to expect in the run-up to Day Zero,” she tweeted late Friday.

“Where the map is white, they cannot predict. They said: Climate change has destroyed predictability of old forecasting models.”

“I wasn’t blaming the SAWS,” she wrote in a later tweet.

“It is perfectly acceptable not to be able to predict weather during an era of climate change. This is a reflection of the seriousness of climate change. How could anyone read anything else into what I said?”

This isn’t the first time Zille has landed herself in hot water.

The Premier on Wednesday retweeted a fake news claiming that Minister of Home Affairs Ayanda Dlodlo referred to Cape Town as its own country. She later deleted the tweet and apologised.

At the time of writing, dam levels across Cape Town remain below 28% full, with Day Zero set for 12 April 2018.

Update: This article has been updated to include a response from Helen Zille.

Feature image: warrenski via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0, resized)

Author | Andy Walker: Editor

Andy Walker: Editor
Camper by day, run-and-gunner by night, Andy prefers his toast like his coffee -- dark and crunchy. Specialising in spotting the next big Instagram cat star, Andy also dabbles in smartphone, gadget and game reviews over on Gearburn. More


  1. Jacqueline Jonker

    January 26, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Both Helen Zille and Patricia De Lille are being set up for a fall. De Lille was easy to read and she fell into the trap with gusto as was predicted by whom so ever is running this show. Helen on the other hand is more difficult to read and this entity has to resort to sly underhand methods…who posted the ‘fake news’, who advised our eager as a beaver Mayor that she needs to destroy the forest because they were ‘drinking all the water that C.T. needs’.

    I do hope the wood was sold for a reasonable amount…are we allowed to see where these additional funds were applied or was it just enough to cover the cost of the actual removal?

    Everything happening in Cape Town and probably elsewhere in this could be beautiful country of ours is politically inspired and please remember there are not only 2 political parties involved…who are the most actively working and very hungry for this position of power up for grabs in just a few months. To get a foot in the devil needs to do his work.

    And to get back to the above article ..I do believe that Helen Zille was quoting a very real conversation she had with someone at the weather…Does SAWS have recordings of all conversations if not how can they say this did not happen. I for one agree with the statement made…The big storms..yes.. bang on ..the everyday ..nope ..not so much.

  2. docpam

    January 28, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    I have to guess that the people at SAWS actually do not understand the weather. Helen Zille said nothing wrong. Maybe the people at SAWS need to have classes in understanding what is said.

  3. Pingback: A look at Cape Town's water crisis in graphs: January 2018

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